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Caritas staff recently visiting an education and rural development programme in Bamyan province, Afghanistan, found a surprisingly peaceful place. That was despite two attacks in troubled northeast Bamyan shortly after their visit that left five New Zealand soldiers dead. Caritas International Development Manager Tara D’Sousa and Programmes Officer Nick Borthwick visited Shaidan Valley and Yakawlang areas. Their biggest impression was one of peacefulness and community harmony.
‘People are just going about their daily lives and making the most of their opportunities,’ says Nick.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand’s partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working with communities on soil and water conservation to better manage watersheds and the steep slopes that surround deep, green valleys. One of the most profound things, says Nick, was to witness ‘converting dry, arid, rocky and overgrazed swathes of land on these hillsides into ... green and regenerated hillsides which have shrubs and wild plants growing.’ The technique for doing so was introduced to Afghanistan by a CRS expert from India, and was successfully used in two neighbouring provinces before being introduced to Bamyan.
‘It’s basically building structures like walls – contour walls – and pits which retain water which slows down the process of water absorption into the land,’ says Nick. This provides flood protection, as well as lush greenery for animal feed.
The programme also works with savings groups of men and women, to improve their ability to provide food and earn income from products such as wheat, potatoes, vegetables, sewing and handicrafts. Community-based schools are supported to provide children in remote rural areas access to education.
We also express condolences to the family and friends of New Zealand soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan. We appreciated assistance from the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team during the recent visit, and acknowledge the protective role it offers development work in the region.